Handling and Storing Raw Seafood

Raw seafood products should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination and to ensure their quality and freshness.

Handling Raw Seafood

The most important safety issue with raw seafood is cross-contamination. This happens when bacteria is transferred from raw seafood to raw foods, such as vegetables. In order to avoid cross-contamination, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Never use the same cutting board (even if it has been washed) for raw fish and raw vegetables.
  • A plastic cutting board is best for fish; a wood cutting board will absorb juice and odors, which can be difficult to wash out.
  • Wash the cutting board, along with any knives or utensils used, thoroughly with hot, soapy water immediately after use.
  • Always wash your hands immediately after handling raw seafood, before you touch anything else.
  • Wash the counter and any other items that came into contact with the raw seafood, as well.

Storing Seafood in the Refrigerator

Seafood products are highly perishable, so follow these important points for storing them.

  • Store under refrigeration at temperatures between 30°F and 34°F. Fish stored in a refrigerator at 40°F will have approximately half the shelf life of fish stored at 32°F.
  • Whole fish should be stored on crushed ice in a perforated pan so that the melted ice water drains. Drain and re-ice daily.
  • Portioned fish wrapped in moisture-proof packaging can also be stored on shaved ice to extend the hold time; generally you should cook fish within 1-2 days of purchase.
  • Store fish on a tray, so that juices do not leak onto the refrigerator shelves or cross-contaminate other foods.
  • Clams, mussels and oysters should be stored at 40°F with lots of humidity; leave them in the boxes or bags they were shipped in. Never store live shellfish in plastic bags and do not ice them.
  • Live lobsters and crabs should be kept in boxes with seaweed or damp newspaper, if a saltwater tank is not available.
  • After cooking, refrigerate leftovers promptly, within 1 hour of cooking.

Freezing Seafood

  • Frozen storage should be between 0° F and 5° F.
  • Most fish is sold frozen and can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.
  • It is not recommended to refreeze fish that has been sold as previously frozen.

Thawing Seafood

  • For best results, thaw seafood overnight, or for several hours, in the refrigerator.
  • Keep in original packaging, in a single layer, on a tray.
  • Vacuum-packed products can be quick-thawed in a sink of cold water for 1 hour or less.
  • Do NOT thaw at room temperature, as bacteria can develop.